Missional Messiness

In a couple of our recent training sessions, we have been discussing the subject of missional hospitality. And, commonly, we hit the deep and scandalous topic of how clean should your house be when hosting other people?  On the surface, this does not seem like a problem until we start reflecting more on our motivations both for and against a cleaner casa.

Some Good Questions

welcome to our formerly clean houseHere are some of the questions we asked, and I might add that they are good conversation developers:

  1. How much cleaning is enough in our cultural context for people to feel at home and not be distracted? (for example, northern Italians are fastidiously clean by nature. Sometimes, this is greatly appreciated, and at other times, one can feel quite awkward.)
  2. How much cleaning is necessary to be tidy and yet not cross the line of presenting an artificial, sterilized, and even hypocritical version of ourselves?
  3. How much cleaning reflects a performance-to-impress attitude where we simply become Martha in our own home and miss all of the good worship of Jesus? Is genuine hospitality a dinner party or something much more familiar?
  4. How should we respond when the little humans (children-unleashed) make a mess or break something in our homes?
  5. Do other people know where you keep your utensils, serving items, and tools? And do they have access to them?

A Key Principle

Don’t allow grace and mission to be hindered over a standard of sanitation. Martha couldn’t choose ‘the better meal’ because she was hindered in her hospitality. And a Pharisee was revealed as a fool because he failed to clean his “house” properly; his mission was himself, not grace. Luke 11:37-41

In the ministry here (Serenissima), our Gospel communities are called LifeTeams. And because we are seeking to share more and more life together, a LifeTeam is all about making a missional mess. Often, Christian community is simply a mess-on-mission. Somehow when the mess comes, however, the graciousness of God is mysteriously revealed and people can rest their souls and feel more at home than in their own houses. And that’s the beginning of missional hospitality; the use of our homes as temples to God and not to ourselves.

So, how clean should our house be when hosting other people? As clean as necessary for Jesus to be seen. And that could mean letting the little humans be loved as little humans, as well as re-humbling ourselves in the whole idea of putting on a production when someone comes through our front door. For some (and we have experienced this too), it might mean a bit more effort to recognize the missional context of people with which they are working. With a nip of hyperbolic language here, leaving an un-emptied, cat-litter box in the middle of the room where you are sharing Christ — honestly — might be a distraction to some. It’s just an observation, but I don’t think I’m out of my sand-box on this one.

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Food and Ministry: Problem 3

Ghanaian_food

I don’t even know how to spell it, but it sounds like “watch-it” and our Ghanaian church family members were excited about it. I’ve had Fufu, tasted red-red, and enjoyed plantanes & rice but watch-it was new. For weeks, we had been talking about our inter-cultural meal (read: awesome potluck) that we were planning and they wanted me to try their favorite dish. The day came. Their enthusiasm was high along with my anticipation — and the first bite…. well … ya …  I had to watch-it. It was completely foreign to me; an acquired taste in the making.

As I was working my way through that first bite, one of the brothers said, “Pastor, I like it with piccante sauce.” My eyes lit up as I mumbled through my watch-it, “Hmm…ya… div-me-thum-o-that … hmm… lots…ya… kee-it-comin.” Then, our dear sisters asked me, “Pa-pa, do you like it?” To which we westerners all respond, “It’s different, a bit unexpected.” And then they had a good laugh. 

So, would I eat watch-it again? Yes, because I like my brothers and sisters much more than I like the dishes that appeal to me. You might be saying, “But, it didn’t appeal to you!?” And you’re right. The dish appealed to them, and so it is part of their joy and identity. If I don’t watch-it, I’ll miss the ministry to the Africans because I’m only comfortable with the food of the Italians. 

Problem #3: Culture Comfort

Culture comfort with our food basically says that I’m not willing to try food that isn’t what I’m used to. The point is not just to try different, international foods but to see who those foods are connected to. A good bit of a person’s identity is wrapped up in their food. It is like a chain of links. If you reject someone’s food or type of food, you reject their culture. If you reject their culture, then you reject a part of them. 

Ministry Impact

Over the years of eating and ministry, we have noticed that more of our African brethren struggle with this problem. What happens when we concentrate on eating only the foods that are comfortable to us is that we communicate that we are just fine with keeping exclusively to ourselves. We actually begin to close down our thinking toward other groups of people and we strive to maintain our own cultural identity even more. Through the different “tastes” of food that we don’t like, we start to think of the people in this way too. We will say things like, “I don’t understand them” and we will seek to avoid the awkward experiences again. Therefore, even how we eat and share our food will stop being missional. Once we build our comfort zone, we will see others as invaders in our lives and not included. Then, to protect our comfort zone and identity, we will have to sneer at the intrusions or sneak away from them. 

Recommended Solution:

Try different foods that people make and offer you. Try the plates for the people. Go missional with food and see those tastes as gateways into people groups. Train yourself to be open to others and their cultures through food. Watch-it on purpose.

Food and Ministry: Problem 2

Jesus_feet_house_of_simon

“I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet…You gave me no kiss…You did not anoint my head with oil…he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Jesus (Luke 7:44-47)

How we conduct our meals and share our food does reflect on how we practice and give the Gospel. The passage above is from the account where Jesus is invited to Simon’s house. In the end, Simon does not have the good news of forgiveness (his meal conduct illustrated that), and Jesus does have the good news of love and forgiveness (his meal character revealed that). Both how we eat and who we eat with are ministry practices of grace.

Problem #2: Food-Pride

What’s the last meal that you sat down to that left you saying, “Hmm, that just wasn’t all that good?” The last meal like that which I can remember had chicken involved — I think it was chicken (kind of tasted like chicken). Now, I can whip up a great bowl of cereal or a tasty bag of chips, but cooking isn’t my forte. Eating is my forte. I’ve studied and practiced it for many hours over the course of many years. And, living in Italy is like eating in the big leagues. 

However, one hindrance in utilizing our food for ministry that I’ve encountered is that of a certain food-snobbery. The Italian kitchen does have bragging rights. Each region merits an appreciation for how it takes every-day ingredients to a whole new level. But when it is made evident at a meal that the pasta wasn’t cooked to the optimum consistency or a certain sauce lacks an ingredient or the after dinner coffee just doesn’t have the taste like mamma mia’s coffee — we are entering the realm of personal acceptance and gracelessness

Ministry Impact

Through the years of ministry, we have noticed that more of our Italian brethren have struggled with this problem. What happens when we concentrate on the standard of the food is we are communicating that we are just there for the superiority of our culture. Often, the message is subtle but it is there that you are not one of us. Anybody can practice this when they take too much pride in the food they have prepared and how they have prepared it. A meal that shares the ministry is one of inclusion. As Christians, we need to communicate that our table is open. Grace shows favor, welcome, appreciation, and forgiveness (pretty much like Jesus). Using food as an instrument of pride shows exclusivity, superiority, and how to be a jerk (pretty much like Simon).

Recommended Solution:

We should humble ourselves before others — through food. This means allowing the food to be what it is. If food becomes the focus, then simpler is better here or we will really close the doors on future opportunities to bring friends to Jesus because we want them to praise us first.

See the meal as a means of acceptance and of being equals at a table. The Christian church is greater than any one culture and our tables can model that. Talk more about the qualities of the persons at the meal than the qualities of the recipes and ingredients of the meal. Enjoy the people God has made more than the food or how it has been prepared.

 

3 Uses of Food for Ministry

We recently completed a three-week series at Serenissima entitled Major Ministry Tools. We looked at how our food, homes, and families are things we live with every day that can share the great story of the Gospel.

Here were 3 insights from the message on Food as a Major Ministry Tool.

  1. Food is not just fuel; it’s faith:  If I only regard food as fuel, then what I’m really doing is using food to fuel my own agenda instead of being nourished by it to follow the Lord’s will. Physical hunger takes me back to the table where I remember (repeatedly) that I am a dependent being. The very act of eating shows that I have to trust in provisions beyond myself. We give thanks to the Lord to recognize that He is the source of all of these provisions. Eating is our act appreciation and trust for our lives. It gives us a window on faith.

  2. Food is not just good; it’s grace: By God sharing his bounty with me to meet my need (common grace), I can share with others to point them to God through Jesus (special grace). I wrote about how food is an image of grace in our last post. In previous centuries, food was much harder to come by so it was easily hoarded. But God desires a righteous and generous people who live like He thinks. Both the act of sharing your food and the people with who you share your food is telling a story of grace. Could it be that food and hunger were both created to give us the ways to understand and re-tell this Good News?

  3. Food is not just for consumption; it’s for communion:  Jesus compared himself to food (bread & water of life). When you invite someone in to your home to share a meal, you are sitting down with them as a peer. You’re looking eye-to-eye with them and sharing in each other’s lives by allowing them to have a seat — where you are. That’s how God offered the most precious meal of Jesus, the Paschal Lamb. God invited his enemies to come through the Door of his home and sit at his lavish banquet feast and commune with him. The table of the Lord is offered to those who will turn to Jesus (ie. consume & assimilate) and commune with him.
    Multiplying_loaves

The Integration Principle

Another church planting principle that we’ve noticed through the years has been that believers who are maturing in the Faith also broaden their acceptance of other people from different cultures. Whereas, in the Ingress Principle, people feel more welcome with others who are like them, this principle says that believers mature toward people who are unlike themselves. So, a church should seek to provide opportunities to integrate the cultures (that are welcoming others) into a Christ-centered, alternative culture. People usually need to be warmly-welcomed and meet Jesus before they begin to appreciate and care for others that are different than they are. At the same time, we don’t want to leave the church body to be isolated into separate cultures because the fullest expression of the Gospel will be lost and enculturated back into a certain people group.
For example, in the Ingress Principle, I mentioned a group of Chinese people who are being welcomed by a group of Germans who are believers. In time (could be long or short-term), when more Chinese people are also saved, they will come to see more of Jesus in the Germans and appreciate them as brothers and sisters. This will happen not just because they’re Germans, but because they are of Jesus. They will have a deep appreciation for the Germans because the Germans originally showed them the love of Jesus. So then, we want the Chinese to be together with the Germans so that, altogether, they can simply be Christians in God’s family. These principles of welcoming (ingress) and maturing (integration) will repeat themselves through the joy of outreach and evangelism.

The Ingress Principle

Something to keep in mind when opening small groups and planting churches (among different cultures) is that people feel most at home and accepted when they are around people who are like them and things that are familiar to them. In other words, people (generally) will be more at ease when they don’t have to cross- out” of their culture to be a welcome part of a group. This might also be called the principle of homogenity. However, the reason that I call it the Ingress principle is because of the type of welcome that is involved. A Gospel welcome involves believers who are culturally like the guests with accompanying tastes, sounds, colors, smells, music, and even slang (or ways to say things that are particular to their culture).

If you have a group of Germans, it will be difficult to welcome Chinese people  — until there are one or two Chinese who are spending time with the German group AND the Germans make efforts to really affirm, adapt, and understand the Chinese. This really takes some time, energy, and understanding. It sounds missional, doesn’t it?

Remember, in this illustration we are not trying to conform the Chinese to the Germans even though, at first, the Germans are the predominant group. We are saying, because of the Gospel, the Germans are willing to be uncomfortable and uncultural in their way of life for the sake of the Chinese welcoming other Chinese.